Armenia said Tuesday that a Turkish fighter jet had shot down one of its warplanes during heavy fighting with Turkey’s ally Azerbaijan, but Ankara fiercely denied the claim.
Direct Turkish military action against Armenia would mark a major escalation after three days of heavy fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh.
The two sides have defied calls for a ceasefire over Karabakh — an ethnic Armenian enclave that broke from Azerbaijan in the 1990s — and are both claiming to have inflicted heavy losses on opposing forces.
Ankara has backed Azerbaijan in the conflict and on Tuesday the Armenian Defense Ministry said a Turkish F-16 flying in support of Baku’s forces downed an Armenian SU-25 warplane.
Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan said the Turkish jet was supporting Azerbaijani bombing when it shot down the Armenian plane, killing the pilot.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s top press aide called the claim “absolutely untrue.”
Turkey has also reportedly sent hundreds of Syrian rebel fighters to the Azerbaijani border, amid spiraling tensions with Armenia over the separatist territory.
Armenia has accused Turkey of sending mercenaries to back Azerbaijan.
A war monitor Monday said Turkey has sent at least 300 proxies from northern Syria to join Azerbaijani forces.
Turkey informed the fighters they would be tasked with “guarding border regions” in Azerbaijan in return for wages of up to $2,000, said Rami Abdul Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Guardian, citing volunteer fighters from a Syrian rebel stronghold, also reported on the development, but said they were told a private Turkish security firm would foot the bill.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked for decades in a territorial dispute over Karabakh and have blamed each other for sparking fierce clashes that erupted on Sunday and have since caused nearly 100 confirmed deaths.
Foreign powers, including the United States and Russia, have called for an immediate ceasefire and a return to negotiations over the future of Karabakh that have been stalled for years.
The UN Security Council was scheduled to convene Tuesday for an emergency meeting on the escalation, but neither side showed any signs of standing down.
Both Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan vowed to continue fighting on Tuesday, while their militaries claimed to deal heavy blows to enemy forces.